Professor Strong

by Ruth Hammond Barrus

Numerous, well-thumbed books filled the bookcases occupying three small walls of the room, and formed centerpieces for each of the many little tables conveniently placed near some easy chair and lamp. The old reed organ was piled high with the music of Haydn, Bach, and Franck and reflected the warm, late afternoon sun streaming in from the one large window. The big work table in the corner was covered with pens, pencils, papers, and an ink stand. As I timidly entered and surveyed this intriguing room I was filled with solemn wonder for this man who was going to pull himself away from all this for an hour each day and teach, free of charge, that something in music, which he claimed one never got from just piano study, to a young girl just entering high school.

When I looked into the strong, intent, kind gray eyes of the tall slender man just entering the room, I knew that he had something big to give; and I prayed to myself that I might be able to comprehend and apply it. The long legs clad in rumpled, ill-fitting trousers, the long arms sticking much too far out of the loose coat sleeves, the white curly hair which was allowed to rest any place on his head, his closely clipped white beard resembling the type the old Southern gentlemen used to wear, and his kindly attitude did not fit my descriptions of what I thought a Ph.D. of music and literature should look like; so I forgot him as such and thought of him only as a man who loved music and books, and wanted, without imposing, to make other people love them.

Instead of asking me how much I had studied and what I had studied he asked me if I loved books. At my enthusiastic reply he eased back in his chair, picking up a book from the table near it, and automatically turning to a ragged-edged, well-marked page. A loving, deeply musical, slightly Southern drawl made the words in Satan's description of Paradise in Milton's "Paradise Lost" become full of life, the characters become real beings, the Paradise become a real existence. After completing that moving description he closed the book and gently replaced it on the table.

"You like it."

I was so moved by it all that I could not reply to this half-question, half-statement, but he seemed satisfied. He slowly drew himself out of his chair and quietly walked over to the old reed organ. Again his hands automatically sought out a favorite -- this time of music -- some music of Haydn. No changes were made in the stops which had previously been drawn, and the lingering tones of one of Haydn's Carols were set free by the pressure of those long, slender fingers. As I listened to those beautiful tones, I felt as if I were entering the Paradise that Satan had tried so hard to enter. I felt as if I were on sacred ground, and dared hardly breathe nor move for fear it would not last; but as the tonic tones gradually faded away, I realized with regret that my first lesson must end. It was hard to bring myself out of this atmosphere, penetrated by so few, back to the sordid realities of a small, isolated western town, settled generally by uneducated, rodeo-loving people; but the harsh laughter of a school trustee who "come to have a word with the Superintendent" assisted greatly.

With a deep sigh I arose from my comfortable chair and tried as best I could to express my appreciation to him who had unlocked the door to a new world which I had not hitherto known to be in existence.